To improve smallholder farmers’ access to new improved varieties, a digital variety catalog tool created by ICRISAT in partnership with public and private institutions was recently launched. Called 4CAST, the tool is a user-friendly data driven platform that gives information about new improved varieties, quality and availability of seeds nationally and regionally. 4CAST, which stands for Digital Tools 4 Cataloguing and Adopting Improved Seed Technologies, also provides stakeholders in seed value chains a digital workflow, decentralized access, real-time tracking of progress, private catalogues as well as seed roadmaps.
Only about 20% of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa use seeds of improved varieties, mainly because the smallholder farmers still have limited access to these technologies despite the release of many high yielding and resilient crop varieties. Seed is very crucial in crop production as it is estimated to contribute up to 20% of total crop productivity.
Dr Chris Ojiewo, Seed Systems Cluster Lead at ICRISAT, noted that crop improvement systems have been addressing constraints, especially those to do with production, biotic and biotic stress factors and yield related factors, with new improved varieties. However, without proper seed systems, those improved varieties will remain in the shelf, he cautioned.
“Seed systems involve extensive planning for seed production. 4CAST helps in planning of production and generating information about available varieties so that when seed stakeholders plan on adopting and producing varieties, they are able to make informed decisions because they have information about the seed catalog” Dr Ojiewo added.
As illustrated by Mr Ram Dhulipala, ICRISAT’s Digital Agriculture Cluster Lead, the TL and HOPE projects released over 250 varieties across seven different countries and across nine different crops. A digital tool that could simplify access to information on the varieties and help stakeholders plan their seed production activities with a certain target adoption in mind was created. What started as a basic tool in 2017 has today evolved to become a very robust and comprehensive tool for varietal information access and seed road map generation.
How 4CAST works?
Speaking during the launch of 4CAST on 24 August 2021, Mr Satish Nagaraji, Senior Manager – Digital Agriculture, ICRISAT, noted that development of 4CAST involved consultative workshops with stakeholders to gather data into the platform where the need to have a decentralized and more user friendly platform was evident.
Through 4CAST, stakeholders are able to record information on varieties and seed at the national and regional levels and establish a ‘roadmap’ for seed production. The collated data goes a long way in enlightening farmers about quality seeds, how and where to access the seeds in adequate quantity and in timely manner, which is important for the transformation of agriculture in Africa and South Asia. The data accessed by the stakeholders serves as a guide to preferred crop variety characteristics and provides insights into variety replacement needs.
The 4CAST platform has two components: an open access which allows the public to access the variety catalog and generate a road map at http://4cast.icrisat.org/, and a login-based system which helps users to add their private catalogue, generate a detailed seed road map and allocate the planned targets to different users and producers.
The way ahead
Ms Julian Barungi, a program officer at ASARECA, said that quality seeds are inaccessible and require prior planning. “Through 4CAST, timely planning is achievable and ASARECA is ready to popularize the tool within Eastern and Central Africa and have member states come on board to begin using the tool,” she said. Dr Hippolyte Affognon, a representative of CORAF/WECARD, emphasized the need to synergize 4CAST with ongoing regional initiatives.
Officially launching 4CAST, Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director for Accelerated Crop Improvement at ICRISAT, noted that there has been substantial efforts and significant progress in development of high yielding varieties that have led to enhanced crop productivity, but somehow seed system has been one of the weakest links in attaining the genetic gains in farmers’ fields. He underscored tools like 4CAST as vehicles for delivering seed technologies to farmers so that they can realize higher genetic gains in their fields.
ICRISAT envisions 4CAST being used extensively hence the organization of the webinar to popularize the enhanced version of the platform, its functions and capabilities to national partners, regional seed systems players, private seed companies and other stakeholders in the seed value chain. We also would like to engage major regional seed systems players in Africa and position 4CAST for widespread use in the near future by private seed companies and NARS programs.
To view a video about how 4CAST works, click here